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Queer Art Workers Reflect: Boris Torres Makes Portraits to Redefine “What a Family Looks Like”

LGBTQ Pride month is now. Every day in June, we are celebrating the community by featuring one queer art worker and asking them to reflect on what this moment means to them.

Artist Boris Torres (all images courtesy Boris Torres)

The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them. If you identify as a queer art worker, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about how to participate. 

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What’s your name?

Boris Torres

Where are you based currently? 

Brooklyn, NY

Describe who you are and what you do.

I moved to New York from Ecuador when I was 9 years old. As a queer immigrant in New York I struggled with my identity for many years — not quite feeling American or Ecuadoran. As an adult I now cherish these past struggles, as my Latin culture and speaking Spanish enriches my Americanism and vice versa. What I love most about living in New York is its diversity; it’s a city of people from all over the world. Over the last 15 years I’ve been creating work that explores queer identity and history, and my personal experiences growing up as a queer immigrant in New York. I’m currently making portraits from life of the people in my community — friends, artists and queer activists.

Boris Torres, “Portrait of Ira Sachs” (2020), acrylic on paper, 18 x 24 inches

Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

In the past 6 months I’ve had the opportunity to have 2 solo exhibits of the portraits I’ve been painting over the last 4 years. Since 2016, I have painted over 80 portraits from life. It began when a friend commissioned me to paint his portrait from life. For several months, he would come to my studio and sit for me. Afterwards, I missed his visits and I realized that painting a person from life allowed me to connect with them on a deeper level. Our conversation and this shared moment was recorded with paint, permanently. I started asking my friends to come and pose for me so that I could continue to record and capture their essence and our experience together; once the model leaves the portrait is complete.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

I have been celebrating my queerness through my art work. I have been painting people from life — mostly queer people in my community, people who I love and admire and who contribute in positive ways to our society. Many of the people I have painted are other queer artists, writers, filmmakers, activists, parents — I consider them rebels for the work they are doing. My last 2 solo exhibits were titled Rebels I Know and featured portraits of the many people I have painted.

Boris Torres, “Portrait of Viva Torres” (2020), acrylic on paper, 18 x 24 inches

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

Lately I’ve been thinking about how to be the best role model and how to best guide my kids in this time of so much uncertainty. I want them to be brave and to be kind, and to fight for their rights and for the rights of others who are at a disadvantage. Growing up gay, I never thought I would be able to have kids. My dream came true when my husband and I decided to have children with a single female friend of ours with the idea that she will be the “mom” and not just a “surrogate.” The three of us equally co-parent and are the three “primary parents,” although not legally recognized by the laws of the United States- which allows only 2 legal parents. Kirsten lives next door to us on the same floor. Our kids spend one evening with her and the next with us, going back and forth everyday.

Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

I recently completed a fellowship at the Leslie-Lohman Museum. The people I met and the friends I made there are what I most cherish from that experience. I also love Visual AIDS and I’m always happy to contribute my work for their fundraisers. I often think about the Hetrick Martin Institute, a drop in center for queer youth. I went there when I was 16, terrified of being gay. When I got there a counselor named Manuel said to me “there is nothing wrong with you, being gay is not bad. Being gay is a beautiful thing; you are wonderful just the way you are.” I felt like a weight had been lifted that I had been carrying all my life. I found happiness and freedom in his words.

Boris Torres, “Pavel & Allen” (2019), collage, 72 x 52 inches

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

In quarantine.

Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

Queer artists could be better supported through more mentorship programs. After the AIDS crisis, the next generation of queer people had no one to guide, teach and support them — many of the generation before them had died. I’m from that next generation; I was a young artist that needed a mentor and had no one to look up to who was alive. It is wonderful to see established, working artists who are willing to help and guide younger artists in their careers.

In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

Social changes for minorities, women and queer people are happening at a very slow pace — even within the queer community. I want that shift to be a radical one — to see more opportunities and credibility given to minorities in our community.

What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

I plan to work on a series of Queer Family Portraits. These portraits will help redefine the idea of what a family is and looks like. Differently than the previous series, these paintings will be based on photos that I will take in the homes of queer families. These works will record the individuals and the details of their personal space and home. This project will include portraits of my queer friends who are raising children, as well as of my own family — myself, my husband, our 7-year-old boy/girl twins [Felix and Viva], and their mother. People often remark that our family is “so unique” in its structure. I find that an alienating response, in which queer families are still seen as foreign or other. These paintings will be a record of difference, yes, but also of familiarity and commonality. Collectively, the series will also serve as counter narratives to the historic and traditional place of family portraiture within the canon, creating contemporary alternatives that reflect both my own personal family experience — as a gay man with children — and those of my larger community. I intend to capture the likenesses of the family members as well as the intimacy between them while creating paintings that resonate with gestures, texture, color, and light.

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